Most valuable lessons of 2021

I think this might make an interesting topic- what did you learn this year about growing fruit or even just what you’ve come to suspect is important towards realizing a harvest of excellent fruit?

For me, the most important thing I learned that should be significant for growers in all regions, is the fact that if you cannot thin your fruit adequately early, get back to it when you can, right up until the month or even two weeks before harvest. Thinning early may be needed to assure annual cropping of apples and getting max size through cell division for all fruit, but in terms of achieving highest eating quality, the real action seems to occur in the month before harvest, even two weeks before. That is the crucial period made evident this season by long stretches of wet cool weather. Fruit that ripened shortly after such stretches tended to be low quality- not in size and other appearance but for lack of adequate sugar. I don’t think the primary issue was too much water because the soil stayed very moist almost the entire season.

If it is cool and cloudy, photosynthesis must be highly reduced, resulting in low sugar fruit that has ripened during such weather. I now believe that the issue of ratio of leaves to fruit is most significant in affecting sweetness in the last phase of ripening- why wouldn’t it be?

The closer leaves are to an individual fruit, the more of the sugar it manufactures will end up in that fruit. Thirty well exposed leaves to each baseball sized fruit is a reasonable equation in my region.

A related lesson of the season was that in seasons with intermittent long stretches of wet cloudy weather followed by sunny ones, it really pays to have varieties of stone fruit that ripen over the full extent of the harvest season. However, if most of the season remains cloudy, you are pretty much screwed regardless, as growers to the north of me found out this year.


There has been a lot more research in developing tree fruit color than brix, I think. The good news is that well colored fruit tends also to be higher brix. Well colored fruit is also higher in anti-oxidants, if this is of interest to you. I guess this could mean that you shouldn’t focus on green or yellow skinned fruit if you are aiming for a diet high in anti-oxidants.


Good article, very readable and useful.

I think for my lesson of the year is that you absolutely have to keep pruning older fruit bearing wood out to make room for new, more vigorous bearers. I haven’t done nearly enough of that and this winter I will do much more.


I learned that the best varieties of food are hard to come by. Either a lot of places don’t sell it or they sell out. I also learned it is better to have many different kinds of fruits that ripen at different periods of time than one fruit. At the start of the season I only had cherries from last year which were all mid season. I realized the flaw of this where you will have many fruit all at once and then nothing at all for the rest of the season. I also realized from posting here about even if something is hardy to your zone you may not have the season for it or other factors such as water. Paw Paw need too much moisture, our soil is too alkaline for blueberries and our season is shorter having our first frost typically in October which means even if something sounds good and is to your zone like Indian free you may not be able to plant it. I also learned some of the best stuff takes a lot of time while the shorter stuff does not pay off as much. Good varieties of pears may take 10 years to produce but will produce for along time. Same with nuts like pecans where it may take 6-15 years to bear fruit but will produce forever for you as well. Meanwhile peaches may produce in their second year but after 20 years you will end up replacing them. Also I learned the importance of starting as much as you can as soon as possible because of prices skyrocketing. I was reading posts back from 2008-2010 about how a bare root fruit tree was 10 dollars and now you may end up paying 30-60 dollars per one.


Do you mean to make room for newer, more vigorous spur wood? Many apple varieties bear their best fruit on 2-year wood of moderately vigorous uprights. Other apples and pears bear well on older wood that needs to be cycled in and out so it isn’t too old. Many work both ways.

1 Like

I’ve been trying to find a sweet spot for my trees, tall enough for deer not to strip the leaves but short enough that I can reach without a ladder. I thought I found that this year with my pears. Some branches were too tall, however, for me to thin. As a result, as the pears weighted down the branches, they drooped to well within deer browsing height and were stripped of all their leaves. The same happened with some plums and apples.

So with the drooping branches, I cut them back so now they are out of reach of the deer. They are also low enough now that I can reach most of them for thinning and bagging. It will also help with kaolin spraying next year.

Thank you for posting the number of leaves needed for ripe fruit.

I’m pretty sure I need to bag my apples and pears next year. In the past there were no apple maggots or coddling moth here. This year I lost about 3/4 or more of my apples and pears to insect damage. I plan to take a multi-focused approach, with bags, multiple kaolin sprays, and tanglefoot on the trunks.

My trees dont have to produce bushels and bushels of fruits - just enough for fresh eating, canning, and some cooking.

I do have a well fenced garden for some fruits and vegetables. Space is at a real premium there. I planted half with fruits, with espaliers along the sides, columnar fruits on the corners, and apples grafted on miniaturizing root stock in the middle. Those will still need a few years, although I’ve harvested a few Redloves from the espaliers.

In consideration of space and my limitations, most of the vegetable half is raised beds. I experimented with low growing tomatoes this year, dwarf and bush types. They will be most if not all of my tomatoes next year. My sauce tomatoes sprawled on a brown paper mulch. That was effective at preventing wilt diseases, but I will support them with a horizontal trellis too, next year, for easier management.

Watering was a big issue. My first efforts into irrigation were mixed. I used 1 gal per hour drip emitters for tomatoes and a few other plants. That helped a lot. I tried soaker hose for row plants. It clogged up and quit working in a few weeks. I used a safety pin to stick hokes all over the soaker hose. That worked pretty good. For the first time, I used black plastic mulch, for squashes. That worked very well, my best crop ever. However, I hand watered them through the plant holes, a lot of work. Next year I want to extend the emitters to the squashes too,


Yes, I mean newer, more vigorous spur wood. My apples, especially Liberties but also some other varieties, are coming in smaller every year. My thought is that by taking out some older fruit bearing fingers and heading back the branch they are growing from I can promote the growth of new fingers.

One problem I have is that many of the spurs are directly on the scaffold branches. I’d rather they were growing on fingers.

Do you ever manage moderately growing uprights for crop? I believe it would work for Liberty. On a vigorous, free-standing tree you remove the most vigorous uprights and any surplus of the moderate ones. The growing season following your pruning should bring crop on the shoots in their 2nd year and then you remove the shoots all the way back to the branch they are attached to in favor of 1-year shoots for the next crop. To understand it you can postpone pruning until you can clearly see the flower buds in early spring.


No! I’ve made a practice of removing upward shoots unless I was saving them to use as replacement branches. But I get what you’re saying and I’ll work it into my pruning this year. Thank you.

This has been a problem for me on many types of fruits, pears but also peaches, apples, and persimmons. I have been doing more tying/staking of limbs to get them to stay higher. Because of this it is taking more years than I had hoped to get trees above deer level. One easy trick is if you have a vase shape tree with say four scaffolds, wrap all of them at 5-6’ high with a rope or whatever (I use this plastic chain lock stuff for tying up things). This will let all of the limbs support each other without much work on your part.

The main new lesson for me is to get out crow scares ahead of the game. By the time I put them out the crows had moved in and would not scare away. Along with my older snake and hawk decoys I have a bunch of “dead crow” dummies which you hang in the trees. Supposedly it is one of the best scares for crows. I was recently in my shed and when I saw them from the corner of my eye I thought they were real crows - very convincing dummies. Crows also don’t like the reflective tape, but you need to put it right in the tree they are going after and that ends up being too much work given my number of trees.

My bug and disease sprays were perfectly fine this year, it was the animals (well, and the cicadas) which made a mess of my orchard.

1 Like

For people that want to maintain a tree at a specific height- I say train them to a weep. This is the one way to sustain branches at the height you want because they already are pulled down. You can temporarily use lower branches as anchors to tape higher branches to or tie down with string.

It is also one type of pruning you can do brain dead once the shape is established.

1 Like

Alan: You have a very difficult climate for growing high quality fruit, mainly thinking of stone fruit here. If you really want to improve quality you’re got to grain control of water. A properly built greenhouse would do that but I can understand if you don’t want to go that route. A greenhouse does solve other issues like deer birds coons squirrels freezes hail wind plus most insects and diseases. Look how quickly this thread turned to another issue, deer, that never even look at my greenhouse.

But back to water, the real key to high quality stone fruit. If you don’t want a full out greenhouse plant or select a current small block of trees on well drained soil that doesn’t have a water table within 10ft of the surface. Trench around that block of trees and bury thick root barrier plastic 4ft deep. That’s to keep control of the water. Now cover the block with a poly roof that feeds all rainwater outside of the root barrier. Now no rain falls on the trees or the trees root system. You can control the water. I’d start out at about 15 inches per year, half what it rains in a normal yr. I could build something like this around six trees in a week. Will you get CA quality, probably not. But thin enough early enough, get the water right ,and brix should be up 10 points.


Keep spraying regardless of what the weather report says for the next day, regarding rain. One day the forecast says 80% rain for the next day or two. So I think to myself " I will spray the day after it rains. Then the rain never comes.They really didn’t change the forecast to less % rain. So a lot of my fruit got bitten by insects. No FB or scab, just the insects making a lot of the fruit gnarled and parts of the fruit deformed. So a LOT more less watching the weather reports and spraying when I need to spray.


I believe it’s a matter of sun and heat as much as available water. I have the opportunity to work in all kinds of soils, some that dry out quickly and some slowly, sites that are watered with lawn sprinklers every other day and observations coming from about 30 seasons of contrasting patterns of rain and sun. This year the soil never dried out and there was no limitation of water for trees at most sites I manage. It seemed to me that quality turned around regardless of high available water once the sun came out consistently for a couple of weeks.

My sister has an orchard near the beach in far Northern CA where there is very little precip during the summer, just lots of sun blocking fog. I’ve never tasted blander Satsuma plums than what I had off of her trees where fruit ripened in her dry soil. Of course, she doesn’t get much heat either, so perhaps cool cloudy days are worse than warmer ones, at least for J plums.

Have you ever grown fruit in a season with long stretches of cool overcast?

1 Like

Some of my valuable lessons came regarding grafting. I was so excited to start that i feel I started too early. The weather was just too cold and unpredictable. My choices of grafting locations were based too much in sizes of available limbs with little consideration for the position it would leave the graft. I have grafts on limbs that point straight up or toward the inside of the tree. In many of those cases the graft is on a very short stump which doesn’t allow room to influence the direction it’s going without fear of putting pressure on the graft itself and snapping it off. I have several on secondary scaffolds with wood side by side and narrow angles. They are both desirable varieties and I hate to sacrifice either one.

I’ve watched Stephens video on reworking a tree and choice of scion placement several times so I’m going to make better decisions going forward. I’m pleased with my success rate overall and my skill at grafting is coming along.


We earn our successes, don’t we?


No I haven’t. In west Texas there’s no lack of heat or sun. And when I moved to CA I chose a place where there was plenty of both. Coming back here I again chose sun and heat. We know cool and cloudy isn’t good for most stone fruit. I would think you have enough heat. And if you don’t that’s what a greenhouse is good for. A greenhouse will reduce light. That’s why I’ve put reflective fabric on the ground. Doing that and keeping the trees open and well thinned should overcome light limitations. I think one way or another you could provide the required light, heat, and water deficit. If not maybe retire somewhere that isn’t so limited.


There are a few eastern growers commercially growing sweet cherries in high tunnels. It’s easy to add 10F in those structures. One layer of clear greenhouse poly doesn’t reduce light much. That’s my suggestion with addition of a root barrier to control water to the roots. Some water deficit will reduce vegetative growth helping to improve light penetration.

They even use the reflective ground cover in some of those setups. You’d want small trees and about 50% light onto the ground to be reflected back into the trees.

Your best apricots are in a favored environment that probably adds a bit of the above. Take it another step and see what happens.


The best way I can think of to control water to the roots is just to grow your trees in large pots. You could make a kind of top over the potting mix to divert the rain water away from the pot. I’ve no interest in growing fruit trees in a greenhouse in our humid environment but I have considered deficit irrigation by growing them in pots. I still believe water intake is a big factor, but maybe only half of it. I can’t find much in the way or research on the subject, except in deficit watering in the west- I searched the affects of long overcast periods on brix level but came up empty, besides one Cornell guru who suggested cloud cover does affect brix development in grapes by blocking sun. No reference to research though.

The closest I can come to it is that better light exposure leads to more highly colored fruit and I do believe that higher brix goes hand in hand with that.

Couple of lessons for me in 2021. One, I am clearly not a container grower. I thought I could accommodate more plants but I had to remove the existing make-shift grape trellis and put down a new one before I could plant everything else. So, I left everything in pots for one season. It takes a lot of time to figure out watering frequency for each plant, the time I didn’t have. Some were over-watered and struggled while others like kiwis dried up quickly and died. Overall, it was just a colossal waste of time, water and money. I should have just hired someone to help do the trellis and planted everything in the ground.

Second, with our mild summer this year (and the water restrictions due to drought), I thought I could reduce the watering for in-ground trees. The citation trees badly stunted and others grew only a few inches. I guess our dry spring had more impact than the cooler summer.

1 Like